Editor’s Case Study: Krita, the Opensource Photoshop Replacement

For my first website copy case study I thought I’d choose a popular Free and Open Source (FOSS) project that seems to be bubbling just below the big time and take a look at what they could do to reach new heights for their users.

The software in question is Krita, an image editing software suite that is positioning itself as a major contender to Photoshop. Given that Krita’s team pride themselves on having more accessible support than Photoshop¹ and their software being very user friendly², I felt that their website copy was not as clear and accessible as it might be.

I, like many others on Hacker News, like the look of Krita, and I’d like them to achieve even greater success. So I thought I’d apply my critical editor’s eye to see what they might improve in their website copy, and how and why they should make those changes.

To anyone from Krita who is reading this: I love your work. Please don’t think I am out to tear you down, and don’t take any of this personally: it’s all meant as constructive criticism. I hope some of this is helpful and inspires your thinking about changes you want to make to your copy; alternatively, I invite you to use the changes I suggest here.

I’ve added a Table of Contents in case you’d like to choose your own adventure, but I’ve written this case study linearly so I recommend going through from start to finish.

Table of Contents

What is Krita?

Let’s start at the beginning. You’ve never used Krita before, and you’ve arrived at their homepage. You’re wondering what it’s all about. Perhaps you’re wondering what the benefits are of using Krita instead of—mostly likely—Photoshop. Perhaps you’re thinking, I’m not very techie, is this for me? Or maybe you’re thinking, I’m a professional artist, is this going to have enough advanced features for me?

You’re wondering what Krita is to you.

Your eyes will inevitably fall on the piece of text at the lower left of the homepage entitled “What is Krita?” It reads like this:

Krita is a FREE digital painting and illustration application.

Krita offers CMYK support, HDR painting, perspective grids, dockers, filters, painting assistants, and many other features you would expect. Check out the gallery to see what other artists have done with Krita

The first sentence is very simple and clear; it’s a single line stating in layman’s terms exactly what Krita is, and with an emphasis on “free.” So far so good. Anyone can understand it. Krita appears to be positioning itself as a free alternative to other image editing software, and one that’s presented in easily accessible language. As someone who’s not a professional artist, I start to feel like perhaps this is software aimed at the everyman.

The second and third lines, however, jump into much more specific terminology. They immediately throw around several acronyms, which is a fairly unfriendly method of communication—especially when it immediately follows a very simple, clear, and friendly opening sentence.

A consistent style is crucial, especially in the first few sentences that someone will read on your website.

What we see here on Krita’s front page is not a consistent style.

Then we realize that they’re listing some of their main features in this second sentence, and three main problems jump out from it.

  1. It’s not an exciting list. I use Photoshop, albeit not as a professional artist or illustrator, and I find this list of features is comprised of things that sound core basics of an image editing program. Nothing in that list gets me particularly excited—perhaps I’d find it more exciting if I was a professional artist, but I doubt it.
    1. On top of that, “…and many other features you would expect” doesn’t suggest that Krita are all that excited about their own product. As a consumer, I like it when a company—especially a software company—sounds like they think their product’s great and use it themselves all the time and dammit they just wish everyone else would because it would make the world a better place with more berainbowed fairies and sparkly butterfly-unicorns. If your copy sounds like that (though not necessarily in a salesy way; there is a difference), then I trust you—and your product—more.
  2. It’s too vague. “<a list that reads quite jumbled up>…and many other features you would expect.” I either look at that as someone uninitiated in the design world and think, erm, features like…what would I expect? Or I look at it as someone who’s used Photoshop and thinks, so why is this software special?
    1. Later on you realize that there is a “Lost Button” a bit lower down under these sentences. This button sends you off to read more about Krita’s features. The button is topically linked to this features list, but because of its placement on the page (see the picture below), which is probably because of a design decision to have all the hyperlink buttons line up across the page, this button gets somewhat lost on the page. It’s easy to miss and so doesn’t do well at signposting new users to further information; therefore, there is a sizeable loss to their comprehension of the software at this initial “I’ve just got here, what’s it all about?” stage.
  3. It has poor readability. The list of features reads as jumbled and unordered. It feels like they have picked some features at random to list, and then they’ve not explained why they’re showcasing those features. Neither have they explained why their versions of these features are particularly noteworthy. Again, as a potential new user, I’m thinking: So what? Which is not good for Krita’s ability to engage and convert new users successfully. Finally, on my screen, there is a lot of wasted space in that area (see below), which looks unprofessional; that, combined with a weak list, drags the readability down.
Krita-homepage

How it looks on my screen. Note the box showing unused space, and the arrow pointing to the box that is too far from the text above that gives it context.

 

The third sentence, directing you off to their gallery to see what other people have done with Krita, also comes as a bit of a surprise. It feels a bit like they’re hoping the “other artists” they mention will do the work of telling—or showing— you why Krita is awesome so they don’t have to do it.

Also, I don’t wish to be That Grammar Person (although it’s kind of my job), but that sentence, part of the very first paragraph about their software, is missing a closing period. Even taking my editor hat off, my brain has a fresh red flag pinging upright under the heading of: Warning! These guys are unprofessional! Warning!

Then, after having read this confused three-sentence introduction, you notice that just above it there is a line which says, “Open Source Software for Concept Artists, Digital Painters, and Illustrators.”

I hadn’t seen that at first because it’s artfully brushed onto the bottom of a picture. When I opened up Krita’s homepage my brain scanned it using the following logic:

“Ooh, pretty pictures. Though very cartoon-y. That one looks more like a pencil drawing. Are all these styles possible with this software? FOCUS! Forget the pretty for now! Look for “About teh software” writing! Oh look, they’ve got the good old “pictures above, copy and links below” layout. Ah, there we go, on the left: “What is Krita?” Read that! Wait, what? Those three sentences are… oh dear…”

Besides, that belatedly-read definition of Krita’s apparent target market in the black brush-stroke doesn’t help all that much; the “What is Krita?” paragraph still lends itself to sometimes suggesting Krita’s for the everyman, and sometimes not being sure whom the software’s for. And, as we’ll find later, they’ve said other things about Krita’s intended userbase in other places.

All right. So let’s recap.

TL:DR — what are the main problems with “What is Krita?” on the front page:

  • Lack of excitement in the tone,
  • Confusing messages about who it’s for (target market) and why, and
  • Poor formatting and punctuation, which brings down comprehension and makes it look less professional, and so subconsciously feels less trustworthy.

Here’s What Editor-me Would Do To Improve “What Is Krita?” on Krita’s Homepage, Take 1

If I’d been hired to edit this website copy I’d rewrite that paragraph completely. But I can’t do that yet because I don’t know enough about Krita to make the edit sparkle. So, let’s go onwards and take a look at “About” in the top menu bar to learn more about Krita. We’ll return to improving the front page later. (Alternatively, click here to jump to it, but you’ll miss all the rainbows).

Krita’s About Section (or, Krita’s Website-Based Documentation)

Your “About” page is one of the first places someone is going to go to if they are new, confused, or otherwise in need of further comprehension about your product. You might not realize it because it just sits there quietly and it’s not an issue tracker, but your about page is just more documentation for your software.Cute cartoon ninja

It is ninja documentation.

And we all know how important it is to have good documentation, right?

You want your “About” page to be easily readable, friendly, and welcoming to the user. Most of all, you want it to be easy for them to find critical information quickly and without having to hunt for it too much. (It’s amazing how often this isn’t the case in FAQs/documentation, especially with software.)

So we’ve clicked on Krita’s “About” link in the menu. Does it tell me more about the software?

No. That link directs to the history of the project and the people who wanted to make it and why. That’s very noble, but it’s not about the software as it is now, which is what I, the consumer, want to know now.

However, taking a quick skim through their “history” page is starting to suggest that the product is heavily aimed at the more technical community—at least, people who know what a shell is, what KDE is, and who Matthias Ettrich is. Cue yet more confusion regarding target market: is Krita for techies, non-techies, or someone who’s sort of both but is a pro artist? (Spoilers, there’s more confusion on this yet to come.)

The history page is also pretty drily written. If I had been hired to edit all Krita’s website copy I’d make heavy edits to the text to liven up the copy and correct some grammar and punctuation issues. The benefit of this for Krita would be that their customers would enjoy reading about the history more. They’d likely feel a closer bond with the company, having understood Krita’s history more deeply and had it felt more “alive”; this contributes to creating frothily-loyal customers, which is the sort of customer we all like. Unless they’re zombies with rabies.

But we’re not here to put a spring in the history page’s step; we’re here to find out what the product does and for whom. Let’s try the FAQ page, which is linked off of a sub-menu now that we’re on the “history page.” (Pro tip that I couldn’t fit anywhere else: either have the FAQ page linked separately in your main menu, Krita, or have the “About” menu link go straight to the FAQ, not the history page. I understand that you’re proud of your history, but I can see that you also care about your customer’s user experience and most people clicking on “About” will be looking for something like the FAQ. If they want to read the history, they can click on it via the sub menu—just like for the information about the Krita Foundation.)

The Krita FAQ Page

Oh good lord. The FAQ page is severely sparkly butterfly-unicorn deficient.

 

current-faq-zoomed-out

Quite zoomed out in an attempt to give a visual idea of what I talk about just below.

 

Scrolling down, the list of Frequently Asked Questions is jumbled (a word that has cropped up before in this case study) and disordered, and the confused user who’s just landed here likely won’t be able to find their answer by following some sort of “it’s probably grouped with XYZ answers” logical thinking.

On top of that, while the answers are not terrible and do generally answer the questions, some of the copy suffers the same problems we have seen elsewhere on the site. Some of it is dry, some of it is confusing, some of it needs a punctuation and grammar check.

Taking my editor hat off and putting my consumer hat on, I look at this page and balk. Here are my immediate responses.

  • I don’t know where to start: I feel lost.
  • I still don’t know whether this product is for me (although by this point, I’m probably forming a solid idea—whether the idea’s correct is anyone’s guess at this point).
  • I don’t have a clear idea of what is and isn’t included in this FAQ.
  • It’s a weird mix of friendly (they have clearly tried to answer questions in a “heart in the right place” kind of way) and unfriendly (largely because there’s no order to the questions; this leaves me, the new customer, feeling stranded).

Happily, there are some concrete actions that Krita can take to address both consumer-hat problems and editor-hat problems.

Fixing the FAQ Page

Step 1: formatting

Formatting is something that falls within my editing remit. Why? One of my main tasks is to ensure there is high readability for your readers.

High readability -> high comprehension -> higher bond between company/software and customer -> ??? -> higher percentage of sparkly butterfly-unicorns.

(Or in the case of a company, higher percentage of happy—and hopefully money-spending, reputation-spreading—customers.)

This is simple. When formatting the FAQ, Krita needs:

  1. a hyperlinked table of contents (ToC) at the top of their FAQ page (and they need this STAT), along with a “your question not here? <Do this thing to get an answer>” button at the bottom of the ToC;
  2. FAQ answers to be re-ordered and grouped together logically (and listed in that logical order in the ToC); and
  3. a general but critical look at their layout and formatting. Can that PayPal button be given some coding love of the padding: 10px 5px 15px; variety?³ Can Krita break any answers down into bullet points, or partial bullet points? Can they intersperse a few pictures, nicely aligned, in between the answers? Both of these things increase readability; bullet points do so within individual answers, and pictures do so for anyone who’s reading the entire FAQ in one go for some reason.

Here’s a very brief example of the ToC idea.


(TL:DR — I get the idea, jump to step 2.)

Below, in green, is how I would lay out the table of contents. Each question would be hyperlinked to its answer further down the FAQ page.

Sub-headings are mine; most but not all of the wording for questions are Krita’s (my explanations and relevant thoughts in parenthesized italics and black font).

General questions (I’ve attempted to order the questions by importance and likely interest levels for readers; things readers will be looking for are more towards the top, so they don’t have to put as much work in looking for the answers—something most people appreciate.)

  • What is Krita?
  • Why is Krita free?
  • What are Krita’s development goals?
  • Why is Krita part of the Calligra Suite?
  • Who translates Krita and are there translations available?
  • Who and what is Kiki? (This could perhaps be removed. I have spent quite a bit of time on Krita’s website and have yet to see anything that looks like this “Kiki” as described in the relevant answer. That said, plus points for having a mascot, Krita. That’s endearing. Maybe make Kiki more visible around the website?)
  • Who owns Krita? (This is currently “legal information” on the FAQ page. In a FAQ it’s more appropriate to make it a question that people might ask and be curious about, and I was led to phrasing it as “Who owns Krita?” from the “legal information” answer.)

Support

  • Is there professional support available for Krita?
  • How can I learn to use Krita?
  • Can I use Krita commercially?

Technical questions — compatibility (It turns out that Krita is cross-platform, so it makes sense to separate technical questions about platforms from technical questions about features and problems inside the software. I’ve also tried to order them by topic and/or platform, to make it easier to scan and find the topic that applies to your problem. They could probably be ordered more sensibly.)

  • Is there a package for OSX?
  • Where are the configuration files stored?
  • What graphics cards does Krita support?
  • Can I use Krita with sandboxie on Windows?
  • Krita 2.9 shows a black screen on my Windows system with an Intel GPU
  • What tablets does Krita support?
  • How to make my Huion tablet work with Krita on Linux?

Technical questions — inside Krita

  • Can Krita load Photoshop brushes?
  • Why do I get a checkerboard pattern when I use the eraser?
  • How much memory does my image take?
  • Can Krita work with 8 bit (indexed images)?

How you can help us (Engaging the user, making them feel welcome, drawing them into a relationship. People like to help.)

  • Would you like bug reports?
  • Can I join the fun?

Is your question not answered here? Try our manual or get in touch. (“Manual” and “get in touch” would of course both be links, specifically to the manual and the contact page. If the user is frustrated and still can’t find their answer, at least addressing the fact that they may still have unanswered queries makes them feel acknowledged and cared about.)

 

Step 2: edit the text

So you’ve done some formatting and brought order to the realm of promising opensource image software. What’s next?

Next is heavy edits for most of the answers on the FAQ page. By which I really mean “rewriting.”

First up would be the FAQ page’s answer to “What is Krita?” Let’s take a close look right now.

This is their current answer to that question:

This is our vision for the development of Krita:

Krita is a KDE program for sketching and painting, offering an end–to–end solution for creating digital painting files from scratch by masters. Fields of painting that Krita explicitly supports are concept art, creation of comics and textures for rendering. Modeled on existing real-world painting materials and workflows, Krita supports creative working by getting out of the way and with a snappy response.

Note that when we say “Krita is a KDE program”, that doesn’t mean you need to run the Plasma Desktop to run Krita. It means that Krita as a project is proud to be part of the wonderful KDE community and uses the great framework technology that the KDE community develops.. You can run Krita on Windows, Gnome, XFCE, and if you spend some effort even on OSX.

There are three versions of Krita: Krita Sketch, for touch devices, Krita Desktop for desktop systems and finally Krita Gemini, available through Steam.

 

 

I think of FAQs as needing K.I.S.S. answers. The level of keepin’ it simple, stupid in the above quoted answer depends upon how technical you are, and that leads back to the evergreen question regarding the technical capability of the average potential Krita user.

If you’ve absolutely no idea about anything to do with Linux—in fact, if you’re one of the Windows users that Krita also caters to, according to the above website copy—they’ve probably turned you right off by talking about KDE and “the” “Plasma Desktop” immediately.

If you’re part of the KDE community and/or are looking to run Krita on Gnome, you’re fine.

Either way, we’re right back to the problem of unexciting and dry copy. “End-to-end solution”? “By masters”? (Does this mean you have to be a master of art to use this software, or have they zapped master artists with a miniturization gun and injected them into the software so that your every Krita brushstroke is critically judged and accepted—or not—by a team of software-imprisoned artists?)

Don’t say “What is <software name>” and then have your very next line be “This is our vision.” That’s not what your software is, that’s what your vision is.

Problem one: it’s about you (the company). Problem two: it’s not about the product, but the vision for the product (i.e. what you hope it will be, not what it is).

And, finally, Krita’s current answer doesn’t put on the customer’s shoes. What’s the potential user going to be thinking, reallCupcake showing the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderlandy, when they read “What is Krita”?

They will be thinking: What can I do with Krita?

You want them to be able to imagine what they can create (art is a very individual thing, after all) and understand what Krita is, all at once, so that they will try Krita. And then hopefully fall in love with it and tell all their friends about it.

You also want your copy to be accurate, to avoid confusing the user and sending them down a frustrating rabbit hole that doesn’t end in cupcakes (or whatever they’re looking for, because it’s not there). In this case it appears that Krita Sketch has gone the way of the dodo, but Krita haven’t updated their copy to reflect that.

Let’s try a rewrite that makes it less technical and more delineated, customer-focused, and practical.

What is Krita?

Krita is a program for sketching and painting. With Krita you can create any kind of beautiful art you can imagine, but it is particularly suited to producing:

  • concept art,
  • texture and matte paintings,
  • illustrations,
  • storyboards,
  • comics, and
  • textures for rendering.

Krita is groundbreaking. It’s modeled on existing real-world painting materials and workflows favored by the artistically-inclined. It helps you to produce your most stunning art work by delivering the tools you need and then getting out of your way fast. Not only that, but its user-friendly interface makes it a joy to use for both novice and professional artists.

Krita is as flexible as you need it to be. You can run it on any operating system you like, including Windows, Gnome, XFCE, or even OSX (with a little extra effort). You can find the version you need under “download” on the top menu bar.

You can choose whether to use Krita on desktop or tablet. Krita Desktop is for desktop systems. Alternatively, you might download Krita Gemini. Gemini is a Krita version available through Steam that works both on desktop and on touch devices. Krita Gemini gives you a streamlined, responsive, and touch-friendly sketch interface on your tablet that allows you to get truly immersed in your creative work.

More specifics about Krita, for the technically-minded or curious:

Krita is a KDE program. By this we simply mean that Krita is a project that is proud to be part of the wonderful KDE community, and which uses the great framework technology developed by the KDE community. (You don’t need to be running anything specific (e.g. the Plasma desktop) to run Krita.)

Please visit this page if you want to learn more about our history, or this page if you’d like to know about the Krita Foundation.

Okay, so it’s a lot longer but it’s a lot better. Why? Let’s go through the things this version of “What is Krita?” does, and why it does them.

Why Is This a Better Version of “What is Krita?”

We start out with a very simple and short definition of Krita. Then we immediately put the user’s shoes on and try to address their immediate queries:

  • I like to make X specific type of art, can it do that? and,
  • what does Krita excel at artistically-speaking?

Both of those questions relate to professional users, but also to folks who just want to play around and maybe try their hand at making something nice lookin’.

Right away we have a bullet point list. Now, we want to show off a variety of things that Krita is good at because according to Krita there are a variety of things that Krita is good at. Normally I’d say “go for the rule of three” (i.e. only list three items) but in this case we are trying to impress and capture the imagination of a variety of users, so we want to share this longer list in order to do that.

A bullet point list makes this information much easier to comprehend than a list of that length written out in an in-text sentence. The bullet list also breaks up the text above and below it, allowing the single descriptive sentence above to stand out and capture the eye more.

Next, we want to move on to why Krita is special. I used some of Krita’s existing answer for this part, but carried on our earlier habit of starting a new paragraph with a short, powerful sentence. Hence, “Krita is groundbreaking.” Great. How is it groundbreaking? Then we go into explaining it. I’m no artist, but the next sentence makes Krita sound pretty snazzy to me. We’ve gained sparkly-butterfly-unicorn points for that.

The next logical thought from the reader could well be: right, so that sounds good, but practically speaking how cumbersome is the software to use? We address that concern right away (using some of Krita’s existing copy, which I’ve edited slightly) by reassuring the reader that they’ll be able to produce great art work because of Krita’s tools being what they need but not intrusive.

It’s an FAQ and an overview of the product; we don’t need to go into great detail on Krita’s tools and features, although if we wanted to we could list and briefly describe a few choice Krita tools at this exact point.

This is a natural time to address the question: is it for me?

We use few words to state that Krita’s got a user friendly interface, which is always something people look for in software like this, and that Krita isn’t exclusive: it’s not just for beginners or professionals. The message is: it’s for you. Whoever you are.This bit isn’t made up by me in a final tantrum of, “oh for pete’s sake I don’t know who this is for, let’s just say something fluffy and inclusive.” I eventually found the it’s for everyone vibe on Krita’s Steam page (now they just need to make it more obvious, y’know, everywhere else).

So now our reader’s probably thinking: okay, what’s the catch. Bet I can’t run it. It’s opensource, I’m going to have to run it via an Abacus made of cat fur that faces the moon every other Tuesday.

Krita’s devs evidently have thought and worked hard to make sure it’s a very accessible product. That’s very, very cool. Let’s share that information. Crucially, let’s also make it very clear where and how to find the version our user needs by hyperlinking or just stating in the text. The vaguely curious or somewhat lazy among our readers are much more likely to go and download the software if it’s linked right there in the text.

Then, at the end, we share the extra information about KDE. And why not throw in some links to the history page while we’re here? Some folks will find it interesting and the information in this section clearly represents things that Krita are proud of. It should be included. Just not at the top, where it doesn’t welcome the reader and probably confuses and scares off a lot of potential users.

If this rewrite is too long for your liking (it’s meant to be an FAQ page, to be fair, and the rewrite is quite a long answer) you can always put some of it behind a <read more> tag. But the new Table of Contents at the top of the FAQ should make navigating to other answers easy, especially if you make sure to put “return to top” links at the bottom of each question.

I was going to do some rewrites to other FAQ answers, but perhaps I’ve been rabbiting on for long enough. Let’s finish up with…

Here’s What Editor-me Would Do To Improve “What Is Krita” on Krita’s Homepage, Take 2

Magically, I’ve already answered this.

I keep going on, in a slightly disapproving tone, about how Krita have sprinkled different bits and pieces of their “What is Krita?” definition in various places. It should be the same definition throughout their site, or at least they should all give the same message.

I’ve also mentioned that we should keep it simple.

So, the simplest thing to do is to take some of the FAQ answer rewrite we’ve just done and use it on the front page. We can use it as is, perhaps something like this:

Changed-front-page

Note that the text in the button has changed, and that button should now link to the FAQ page—indeed, it should link straight to the longer answer to “What is Krita?” we’ve just written for the FAQ page. (Yes, we did lose some of the pink splotch on the “What is Krita” box background. I’m not that good at editing images.)

Alternatively, we can slightly edit the text again; either to spice it up so it’s not snore-inducingly identical to the FAQ page that the reader’s about to click through to, or because we have a lot less space on the front page. So perhaps something like this:

Changed-front-page-less-text

Note that in this version we’ve opted for the “rule of three,” which is a reliable writing tool, and one that a lot of readers will expect because it’s used everywhere. It’s a bit like a syntactical signpost.

Krita would want to do some split testing with the varieties of art to include in the bullet points (indeed, they’d probably want some split testing with several versions of the front page copy as a whole). This would help identify which types of art led to the highest retention and/or click through rates for the “read more about Krita” button or the top menu.

In both cases, I’d also recommend changing the text about who Krita is for in the black brush-stroke, now that we’ve established Krita is for, well, everyone.

Phew. I think that’s all I have to say for now. There’s a lot of Krita’s website I haven’t touched on yet, but it was outside the scope of this case study.

I hope this has been interesting and has sparked some ideas for you. If you or your company needs editing for your website copy (or for anything else), please do get in touch!

Alternatively, I’d love to hear any ideas you might have for what my next case study should be.

 

 


 

¹ “Until recently the classes used only Adobe Photoshop, but because of inadequate support from the company the department decided to
replace that.” From the previously linked article, written and published by Krita. (Click here to go back up.)

² A sentiment that is currently tucked away in the section of their manual titled “A Few Highlights of Krita,” or in their “Features” -> “Highlights” section. (Click here to go back up.)

³ Why is that important? Krita is free, yes (well, mostly-sort-of free: if you want the desktop+tablet version you’ll have to pay), but Krita’s team no doubt likes money. They want people to click on the PayPal donation button. So subconsciously encourage them to do so by making the button neater, stand out more, and feel more user friendly as Krita is meant to be, after all; so own that definition throughout your site, especially where money is involved. (Click here to go back up.)

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